Government wasted £2.1bn on PPE that was useless, says new report

The Government squandered at least £2 billion in taxpayers’ money on personal protective equipment of such poor quality it cannot be used in the NHS, a report has warned – five times higher than official estimates.

Some 2.1 billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) have so far been deemed unfit to keep doctors and nurses safe in clinical settings – with 10,000 shipping containers-full still to be unpacked as of May this year, said the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The amount of unusable kit is five times higher than the number estimated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in January, said the select committee, which monitors public expenditure.

The wasted sum forms part of the estimated £372 billion spent by the UK on pandemic-containing measures which will expose taxpayers to “significant financial risks for decades to come”, the cross-party committee warned in two reports published on Sunday.

MPs say they “remain concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose” with potential levels of waste “unacceptably high”.

As of May this year, out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the DHSC, 11 billion had been distributed, while 12.6 billion pieces are on standby at a cost of around £6.7 million a week in storage, the PAC said.

Some 8.4 billion pieces on order from around the globe have still not arrived in the UK.

For excess PPE that is suitable for medical use, MPs said they are concerned the Government is “yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing this essential stock in a way which ensures value for money and protects staff and patients.”

A public inquiry scheduled to start next spring into the Government’s handling of the pandemic will not come swiftly enough to ensure lessons are learned, the PAC added.

Ministers also risk undermining public trust by failing to swiftly publish the full details of contracts awarded, the report said.

The PAC noted that details of three-quarters of the 1,644 contracts over £25,000 awarded up to the end of July last year were not made public within the 90-day target.

Last year, the Telegraph revealed how the chaos behind the global stampede for the kit needed to keep doctors and nurses safe left Britain’s hospitals desperate for protective equipment and almost out of surgical gowns.

The cost of PPE

Interviews with PPE suppliers, contractors and Whitehall insiders exposed a race to stay ahead of Covid, backed by unprecedented sums of public money and the full might of the civil service machine.

It also uncovered a lack of transparency surrounding the lightspeed outsourcing of billions of pounds worth of contracts to private companies, some of whom – including currency traders and cannabis researchers – had little experience of supplying PPE.

The public inquiry is expected to run for years, and the PAC report said it is “clear that the Government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons” and must instead present a Covid recovery plan in the autumn spending review.

PAC chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier said: “With eye-watering sums of money spent on Covid measures so far, the Government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time.

“The ongoing risk to the taxpayer will run for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, let alone the other new risks that departments across Government must quickly learn to manage.

“If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.”

PPE supplies arriving in Bournemouth in May 2020

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “We cannot wait until next year for the public inquiry to start and ministers cannot kick it into the long grass and cover up their failures by refusing to hand over information hidden in personal email accounts.

“The public inquiry must start immediately and the inquiry must have full access to all ministerial correspondence, contracts and documents, including all government business carried out on personal email accounts.”

Britain’s stocks of some types of PPE were almost entirely depleted when Covid-19 took hold in late February 2020, with the National Audit Office already finding the UK’s stockpile at the time was “inadequate”. 

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